How to Grow Tomatoes, Ripe Tasty Heirloom Veggies
Why Grow Your Own Tomatoes?
One look at my daughter's face and you know why you should grow your own tomatoes. She just looks ready to enjoy those juicy ripe tomatoes. And look at all the different colours - they also have different tastes. SOme are great for fresh eating, snacking or salads. Others are wonderful canned or frozen whole for stews. More on that later.
In the past there were many many varieties of tomato. They were not necessarily red. There were tomatoes that ranged in colour from very pale yellow (called white) through to deep reddy purple (called the blacks). Each had its own distinctive characteristics and flavour. Commercial growing focused on red tomatoes that ship well. That's why we get those overly firm tasteless tomatoes in the stores. If you grow your own you can get back to that rich flavour and juicy squishy goodness.
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetables (fruit) to grow. Their taste and versatility lend to their popularity. Originally from South America, they were first thought to be only decorative and actually dangerous. Europeans thought they were poisonous and they did not become popular as a world wide food until about 100 years ago.
Tomatoes are also nutritious - one cup providing a good portion of your recommended vitamins:
- 50% of Vitamin C
- 25% of Vitamin A
They also provide Vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, calcium, iron and lycopene. Lycopene helps prevent some types of cancer and promotes good health. Home grown tomatoes have more of these good things since you ripen them on the vine. Store bought tomatoes are picked un-ripe and so don't have all those great nutrients.
The photos were taken by meself and my husband.
Black Krim Tomato from Our Garden
Types of Tomatoes
There is important information to know about each variety of tomato you choose to grow:
- determinant vs indeterminate - those that fruit all at once vs those that continue to fruit until frost
- days to maturity - number of days from planting outside to ready to eat. May also be classed as early, mid-season, main crop and late.
- heirloom - old style - more that 50 years of open pollinated breeding
- hybrid - newer development which will not breed true if you collect the seeds
- open-pollinated - if you collect true seed, the child plant will be the same as its parent
- resistance - some are resistant to blight (too much water), others to drought (too little water)
- cooking vs Fresh use
Growing Tomatoes from Seeds
With seeds you will have more variety available to you than if you go to your local nursery and buy what is available at planting time. There are seed companies that specailize in old-style vegetables and especially, tomatoes.
Eternal Seed - On-line Source for Organic and Heirloom Seed for vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Free ebook downloads of planting hints. You can either shop right online or download the catalogue and shop by snail mail, which also contains planting hints. Find organic heirloom seeds at Eternal Seed.
If you do not have space or time to start from seed, not to worry, more and more garden centres are starting to caryy a wider variety of tomatoes. Ask around, some even carry hairlooms and farmerÃ¨s markets are a great place to go for plants.
The Heirloom Tomato
Heirloom tomatoes - ones grown in the past for many different reasons, not just to ship and store well, come in many flavours, colours and sizes. Get to know them.
A great heirloom tomato book. Get to know the real variety that is available. Its great.
Step by Step - How To Grow Tomatoes from Seed
How to grow your own from seed - well follow these steps:
- fill a container with soil-less seed mix to within 1/2 inch of the top
- water really well and let drain
- scatter your seed on top of the pot
- cover seed with a tin layer of soil-less seed mix and pat down
- water with gentle stream
- put in a windowsill or under lights (4 inches from light source)
- when they have their second set of true leaves you can fertilize every week or two - lightly
- when they have 4 true leaves, move to individual pots, earlier if they are crowded
Plant your own or some you buy. It is a simple process.
Wait until the soil is very warm before you move your seedlings to the garden. If it is cold, they will be set back.
Tomatoes should be planted in a sunny spot in the garden. Six hours is the absolute minimum sunlight they require - and you will get fewer fruit. Eight hours of sun is best.
Plant them 2 feet apart in a deep hole with a big double fist-full of compost in the bottom. Water the compost. When you plant bury the stem so that only the top two to four leaves are showing. This will make for a much sturdier plant. Planting on a grey day or in the late afternoon is best - during a light rain is even better.
Put your stake or cage in at this time. Make sure it is firmly positioned so it cannot harm your plant. It is better to put it in now, than risk damaging the plants roots by putting it in later. Water well.
How to Plant a Tomato
This video has great tips on planting tomatoes the right way - for lots of wonderful tomatoes.
Best Tomato Book
Caring for Your Tomatoes
Mulching around your plants is a great idea as this will help retain moisture in the soil. Your plants will need a good watering every other day through dry periods. If you water evenly you should avoid cat-facing – lines around the blossom end of the fruit.
If you put compost in when you planted, you will need to fertilize every two to three weeks if you are using a water soluble fertilizer. If you are using a slow release solid fertilizer, add some to the soil one month after planting and again when fruit starts to appear.
Here in Powell River, some find that they need to cover their plants in order to avoid blight. The alternative is to choose varieties that are resistant. Shorter season varieties that can be harvested before the fall rains may also avoid the problem.
To pinch suckers or not to pinch suckers – the big question. There are proponents for both. Some say you get bigger fruit if you pinch, we have not found this to be true but certainly it lets more air through reducing the risk of blight.
Growing Tomatoes Upside Down
The latest thing seems to be growing tomatoes upside down - either in buckets or in specially made contraptions. My husband spent some time consulting in Iqaluit in early spring. They had a community greenhouse that they justs filled with upside down hanging tomatoes. This picture he took in the winter showing the number of tomatoes they had grown that way.
Planting an Upside Down Tomato - You donÃ¨t need fancy planters - its your choice
Upside Down Tomato Planters
Get your tomatoes growing now with these great upside down planters.
- Aphids – more of a problem indoors or in a greenhouse than outside. To prevent, spray your plants with dish soap and cayenne in water. Look for ant tracks and stop their entry. Use insecticidal soap or ladybugs if they are really bad.
- Flea beetle – Plant sacrificial turnips or use row cover on small plants. Sprinkle plants with diatomaceous earth.
- Nematodes – Root-knot nematodes, not the beneficial ones. Very difficult to get rid of, they cause the roots to become all knarly (in a bad way) and stunt the plant. You need to dig out the soil and replace with compost.
- Hornworm – Big 3 inch caterpillars – so, yuck, but you can just pick them off. Spray your plants with water to cause the worms to move around so you can see them.
- Cutworm – Feed on young plants at night – place collars (tp rolls) around seedlings
- Whitefly – If you rustle the leaves and see a cloud of white bits, you have whiteflies. Buy some ladybugs or spray with heavy stream of water and put out yellow sticky traps.
If you find that you are getting too many fruits that are damaged by pests, you can cover them for protection. Take a zip-lock bags and punch holes in it. Slip it carefully over the fruit and zip close to the stem.
If it is about 22 - 25 degrees out let your fruit ripen fully on the vine for best flavour. When it is hotter, say about 32 degrees, you should pick your tomatoes when they start to show colour. This is because at hotter temperatures, softening is accelerated, while colour development is retarded.
More Tomatoes, Please - Harvest Time is the Best !Click thumbnail to view full-size
Storing Tomatoes for Later Use
You can not eat them all at once. Even with half a dozen plants you can get enough tomatoes to save some for the winter months. There are a number of options:
- Can them - make your best tomato sauce and store it in selaer jars. Be careful about canning - the Bernardin site has really good information on that
- Freeze them - you can put tomatoes whole on a cooky sheet and freeze, then pop them into freezer bags for stews and soups later.
- Hang green tomatoes - At the end of the season you may have green tomatoes that wonÃ¨t ripen out doors. You can pull up the plant and hang itin the basement - many will ripen. If the plants are too big or yu donÃ¨t have space (or a basement), then put them on trays on newspaper. The newspaper ink has a substance that helps them ripen.
Do you grow your own?